SitRep: Iran Hawk Ousted from NSC; Huge Defense Bill Pushed Through House; U.S. Investigates Torture Allegations
- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
With Adam Rawnsley
Scaramucci. Just because.
Flynn ally, Iran hawk, ousted from NSC. National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster has removed Derek Harvey, the top Middle East advisor on the National Security Council, from his post Thursday, a source with knowledge of the personnel move told Kate Brannen, FP contributor and Just Security editor. The White House confirmed the decision, but the reason behind it was not immediately clear.
“The two men had a long relationship that dated back to their Army service in Iraq and their shared mentor of retired Gen. David Petraeus, but they had been known to have butted heads during their short time together in the Donald Trump administration.”
Chairman says no trans policy changes yet. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a note to his top officers and enlisted leaders Thursday saying that there are no immediate plans to change the Pentagon’s transgender policy, following the president’s Wednesday tweets about banning trans personnel.
The letter, obtained by Reuters, said “there will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.” Dunford also assured them that the military would “treat all of our personnel with respect” during the process, if and when one even begins.
Chiefs surprised by Trump’s words. For his part, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday evening he first heard about the potential change on the news just like everyone else. But he insisted that wasn’t out of the ordinary. “If I had a nickel for every time I read decisions in the news over the last couple of years, I’d be a pretty wealthy guy right now,” he told an audience at the National Press Club.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions,” he wrote.
There was a big vote in the Senate yesterday. We of course mean the 98-2 decision to slap a new round of tough sanctions on Russia, a bill that would force the president to ask Congress if he can roll back existing sanctions in the future. On Tuesday, the House approved the same measure, 419 to 3 in what can be seen as a rebuke to the White House, which says the bill restricts the freedom of the administration of negotiate with Moscow. Once the bill reaches the Oval Office, it’s up to Trump to veto it — which the Senate has the votes of override — or accept the outcome.
Kremlin response. Russia responded to the bill on Friday by seizing two American diplomatic properties and ordering the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to reduce its staff by September, the government’s first retaliatory steps against the new sanctions.
Torture, U.S. troops, and a new investigation. The U.S. military’s Africa Command has opened an investigation into an Amnesty International report that said its service members were present at a Cameroonian base where local security forces allegedly detained and tortured civilians, FP’s Paul McLeary reports first.
Capt. Jennifer Dyrcz, a military spokesperson, told FP that the command ordered the inquiry which “will include determining what reported information, if any, AFRICOM was aware of prior to this allegation.”
The House busy on defense spending. The House on Thursday also passed some legislation, moving a four-bill, $789.6 billion Defense and Veterans Affairs package that includes defense and military construction, and Veterans Affairs spending for 2018. The big surprise? It all happened along party lines. Defense News’ Joe Gould has more:
“The bill sets up a showdown in the Senate over its inclusion of $1.57 billion in border wall funding and because it tops defense budget caps by more than $63.5 billion. Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass such legislation in the Senate, signaled the provisions were non-starters.”
Trump looking to scuttle Iran deal. President Trump has been unhappy that his administration has twice had to certify Tehran is in compliance with the nuclear deal, and has been looking for a way out. The New York Times reports that the president, “frustrated that his national security aides have not given him any options on how the United States can leave the Iran nuclear deal, has instructed them to find a rationale for declaring that the country is violating the terms of the accord.”
Tehran says, “let me help you with that.” Iran successfully tested a rocket that can deliver satellites into orbit on Thursday, state television said, a move Washington was quick to claim breaches the U.N. Security Council resolution enshrining the nuclear deal because of its potential use in ballistic missile development.
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Jordan. No one yet knows what prompted a Jordanian military guard to open fire on a group of American Special Forces soldiers detached to the CIA in November of last year, killing three, but one of the surviving troops has given an account of the incident to the Washington Post. The soldier, who requested his identity be withheld because of his work for the Agency, describes how the men initially thought the shooting was a misunderstanding, raising their hands and shouting “friend” in Arabic and English only to see their assailant, Jordanian Air Force 1st Sgt. Maarik al-Tawayha, continue firing at them.
Profile creeping. Sources tell Reuters that Russian hackers conducted reconnaissance on members of French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign staff by creating fake Facebook profiles in hopes of getting targets to friend them. Facebook’s security team, however, uncovered the attempts, linking them back to Russian military intelligence, and subsequently suspended the accounts.
Japan. Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has resigned in the wake of a scandal over her withholding of records detailing the dangers Japanese Self Defense Forces faced as peacekeepers in South Sudan. Inada, Tokyo’s second female defense minister, was widely expected to be Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s political heir and Japan’s possible first female prime minister.
Ukraine. A small drone dropping a thermite grenade caused a massive explosion at an ammunition storage site in Ukraine, racking up a billion dollars in damage, according to Popular Mechanics. Ukrainian intelligence believes the grenade, dropped on the Balakliya base in Eastern Ukraine, was Russian.
Syria. The BBC identifies the American F/A-18 pilot who shot down a Syrian Su-22 as Lt. Cdr. Tremel, seen in photo posing in front of his jet with his air-to-air kill stenciled on the side of the aircraft.
Long term lease. Russia will have an air base in Syria for at least the next half century, according to a law just signed by President Vladimir Putin. Reuters reports that the deal for leasing the Hmeymim air base in Latakia adds the option of renewing Russia’s hold on the facility once every quarter century.
Photo Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images